ONCE UPON A TIME… THE END.
Aileen, a mermaid princess, drinks a potion to become human after falling in love with Kwon Shi Kyung (Song Jae Rim). Unfortunately, there are consequences to taking the potion. Before her 100th day as a human, she must find her one true love or risk disintegrating into nothingness.
She dons a human identity as Kim Ha Ni (Jo Bo Ah) and takes up room and board at the Surplus House with other unemployed misfits living there: Kindhearted but Unemployable Lee Hyun Myung (Ohn Joo Wan), Foodie Vlogger Ahn Hye Young (Kim Seul Gi), Booksmart Do Ji Yong (Kim Min Kyo), Maknae Big (Nam Joo Hyuk) and Surplus House’s taciturn landlord, Lee Sun Kyu (Jaurim’s Lee Sun Kyu).
The overall story is based on the children’s fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, but the format is a comedy with the writers and crew (even some of cast) hailing from SNL Korea. Interspersed between the romcom drama, viewers can find skit-like elements which may be loosely related to the overall plot but added mainly for comedic purposes. I think we have seen American sitcoms and TV musical dramedies such as Glee, occasionally use this type of format but to make it a consistent element in the television program is not something we can find outside of variety shows.
I can’t say that Surplus Princess even kept up with the consistency of this format throughout the run of the drama as there weren’t that many skits but the ones I did like were Kim Min Kyo’s G-Dragon parody and Ryu Seung Ryong ramyun parody and the Surplus Housemates’ quest to uncover Lee Sun Kyu’s true identity. It was a nice enhancement over the more typical story developments we’re used to seeing in dramas.
I did enjoy watching the main cast. Jo Bo Ah was cute and bubbly but because her character was so strong-willed despite not being totally acclimated to the human world, she was great at playing the character with a lot of gusto. She had great chemistry with both Ohn Joo Wan and Song Jae Rim and I think it was especially great because the dynamic of her relationship with the two leading men were vastly different.
Despite the story being about the mermaid, I liked that Ohn Joo Wan’s character also takes quite a journey in this drama. From trying to get hired as a working salaryman to becoming worthy enough to deserve his ex-girlfriend, Yoon Jin Ah (Park Ji Soo), he is the underdog that you want to root for. I know it sounds quite strange since you would think that role belongs to Ha Ni but even the drama wasn’t very clear-cut about who the leading male character is at the beginning of the drama.
I liked that the role of the male lead could have gone either way but I wish it was made clearer earlier on in the drama that way it didn’t feel so crammed at the very end. Practically speaking, it probably wasn’t the drama’s intention to do this because they didn’t predict ending the drama sooner than expected.
Unfortunately, due to the focus being mainly on Lee Hyun Myung, I felt like Kwon Shi Kyung was a character that got the very short end of the stick. The drama brings up issues with his eyesight due to stress but that story is never fully developed or wrapped up by the drama’s end.
On the bright side, I was delighted to see Kim Seul Gi again. She was doing double (or triple) duty with acting in Discovery of Love and this drama (even perhaps SNL Korea?). Of course, we do see her typecasted in the same role over again, the cranky but loveable sidekick, but it’s a role of hers that I haven’t gotten tired of yet.
I don’t know what it is about her but she has chemistry with whoever she’s paired up with as well. I couldn’t help but falling in love with the noona-dongsaeng romance between Ahn Hye Young and Big in this drama. Despite being the maknae of the group, Big is quite tall in comparison to Ahn Hye Young and visually to watch this tall guy hemming and hawing over this petite girl.
Unfortunately, the sidekick storylines do not make a drama. You’d think that with a fairy tale that’s lasted the test of time, the writers would have an easier time of figuring out the pacing of the drama. I know that the drama’s run ended prematurely and there have been rumors that the decision to end early was due to both the poor ratings and the writers running out of creative elements but I think the drama could have attempted with a less abrupt ending.
As soon as Ha Ni and Hyun Myung figure out their feelings for each other, we are rushed through a series of events in the last episode which includes a time jump before all of the characters are reunited again. The characters reuniting in the final scene was a welcome sight but tonally the ending felt disjointed. I can’t really emotionally process what I was supposed to take away from this scene. Are we supposed to happy that our OTPs can be together again? Is she supposed to be a symbol of some kind of superhero?
The execution of Ha Ni’s returned reminded me a little of the ending to My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox but emotionally we had more time to process and reflect on the sadness felt by the separated characters that the ending was a welcome reprieve from that somberness. Here, I felt like I was being shoved and ushered right out the door that I didn’t have time to feel happy or sad about it. It just really made me wish for a traditional and sappy ending